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Driving Retirement

woman handing keys to man
January 11, 2016 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

You’re taking away my independence!

That’s usually the response to the idea of giving up driving.

So is this:

No way! I’m fine!

But if a senior family member or friend shows any signs of impaired ability to drive safely, it’s our duty to try to get him or her off the road. They’re a danger to themselves and to others.

Intervening in this situation is very difficult. No one wants to tell a parent, relative, friend, or spouse they’re too impaired—mentally or physically—to go where they want, when they want.

I hope these suggestions will make it easier if ever you’re called upon to intervene.

Before you talk, prepare

Make sure you have the information you need to prepare for what could become an argument. What has led you to the decision to intervene? The more concrete your “evidence,” the better. This might include:

  • New or unusual damage to the car or where it’s parked
  • Statements from neighbors who have observed unsafe driving behavior
  • Your own and other friends or family’s experiences as the senior’s passenger

If you’re fortunate enough to have a senior who agrees to listen, rather than flat-out denying he or she is impaired, be sure you have answers to the predictable question—but how will I get around?

This will require some homework. Ask friends or family whether and when they can drive your senior to any predictable destinations. Assuring your senior that someone they know and trust will get them to their regular doctor’s appointment, market trip, book club meeting, or any other important destination is hugely reassuring.

You’ll also need to know the transportation resources in your senior’s community. Public transportation? Volunteer or paid private drivers, taxis, ride-sharing or car-pooling services? Show your senior a list, along with any brochures, maps, timetables, etc.

Most communities have a government department devoted to senior care. And most places of worship are also there to help. Contact them for advice on all resources for non-drivers. And you can find out plenty of what you need to know online.

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Most important: It’s a golden opportunity!

Many of my patients respond well to the way I describe post-driving life.

It’s not the end of the world, it’s the beginning of a new and better world.

You can be pretty sure of a few things.

  1. Your senior finds driving stressful. They might not attribute the stress to their impaired abilities—kids these days drive like maniacs!—but it’s stressful, and they know it.
  2. Your senior’s range of destinations has grown shorter. One is too far, at another, parking is a nightmare, at another, parking is too expensive.

Take advantage of this!

Emphasize that they can now return to places they’ve been increasingly reluctant to drive to. Museums, shows, restaurants, friends and family they saw less frequently, as driving became more demanding than rewarding.

It really can be a better world—and also a healthier world.

Health benefits of the non-driving life

The benefits of your senior’s new world can be health-giving, illness-resisting, and life-prolonging. All functions will improve: cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, neurological, mental sharpness, frame of mind…the whole person.

  • If they’re OK to walk, they’ll walk more. This has proven health benefits.
  • As a passenger, instead of a driver, they’ll engage with more people, in more places—carpool, bus, taxi, social and cultural venues. Proven health benefits—social contact is good medicine.
  • They’ll see parts of their community that they couldn’t enjoy while keeping their eyes on the road. That’s great mental stimulation, with proven health benefits.
  • Concerts, museums, book clubs, church socials? All have proven health benefits.

What if they refuse?

OK, you might get nowhere.

Contact your senior’s doctor. He or she should be willing to deliver the “unfit to drive” verdict.

Failing that, local government can likely intercede, requiring a physical exam or driving test, or a meeting with a trained counselor who has the authority to demand the keys.

Just remember to be kind and compassionate throughout your approach. You’re likely to be in their shoes one day too.

Good luck with your efforts to keep your loved one—and all of us—safer and happier.

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